Umberto Eco

Sad to hear while I was in Milan recently that Umberto Eco had died. He was most famous in the world for his medieval thriller The Name of the Rose, but revered in Italy for his philosophical and linguistic studies and as a man of immense erudition. His book called, in English, Theory of Semiotics is a basic international textbook in its field. He could elaborate complex theories but also wrote a guide to how to write a university thesis (tongue in cheek but full of good suggestions). Personally, I always enjoyed an early essay in which he provided an excellent explanation of why a popular TV presenter in Italy was successful because he not only understood popular taste but was an incarnation of the average man ('Fenomenologia di Mike Bongiorno', published in Diario minimo, 1963).

I was fortunate to meet him once at a dinner in Bologna, where he then taught at the university, and learned a huge amount in just three hours. After that evening I read his works on medieval aesthetics, which were very influential on my thinking.

He also helped me, unwittingly, with book sales. The Name of the Rose/Il nome della rosa was first published in Italy in 1980, but did not become a bestseller until it had incredible success in the USA. In 1989 it was republished as a cheap paperback in Italy - also following the Sean Connery film - but it was considered "difficult" because of all the medieval and scholarly elements. So the Italian weekly magazine Espresso ran an article on books which could help the reader to understand his novel. One of the books chosen was my then recent book on the Knights Templar (I Templari in Italian). It had a significant impact on sales...